Sir Francis Drake comes home to Buckland Abbey

The Drake portrait

This year the portrait of Sir Francis Drake, which belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, is at Buckland Abbey, offering a rare opportunity to see this wonderful Elizabethan portrait exhibited in his former Devon home.

The painting has arrived at Buckland Abbey as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s 'COMING HOME' project, which will see the Gallery lend 50 portraits of iconic individuals to the places across the UK with which they are most closely associated.

From 27 April  to 22 September, the portrait will hang in the Nave Gallery as part of an exhibition entitled 'Coming Home - Sir Francis Drake at Buckland. The display will bring together Drake’s portrait along with a portrait of Lady Elizabethan Sydenham – Drake’s second wife – belonging to Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery. Thought to be a marriage portrait, both paintings previously belonged to the same owner, so will be reunited in this display for the first time in over 60 years.

The National Portrait Gallery's Drake Portrait
The National Portrait Gallery's Drake Portrait
The National Portrait Gallery's Drake Portrait

The painting was created shortly after Drake came home from his circumnavigation of the globe. In 1581 following his return, his life entirely changed. His voyage made him famous as well as fabulously wealthy. He was knighted by Elizabeth I, and was able to purchase Buckland Abbey – a country home that befitted his new found status. He then became mayor of Plymouth and an MP. He was even granted his own Coat of Arms with a motto that reminded him of his yeomanry birth – sic parvis magna – from small beginnings, great things. He had ‘made it’.

The exhibition, centring on Drake’s portrait, aims to explore how Drake presented himself and his newfound status, and, as part of this, the importance of his new home at Buckland Abbey.

" This is a wonderful opportunity for Buckland to be able to borrow this portrait and put it on public display outside of London. The fact that we are able to bring it back to Drake’s former home where it may have been during his lifetime makes this prospect even more exciting."
- Alison Cooper

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery says: ‘We are delighted to lend Sir Francis Drake to Buckland Abbey as part of our exciting new COMING HOME initiative. We hope that sending portraits ‘home’ in this way will foster a sense of pride and create a personal connection for local communities to a bigger national history; thus helping us to fulfil our aim of being truly a national gallery for everyone, in our role as the nation’s family album.’